Schumi upbeat ahead of home grand prix

Michael Schumacher is confident of continuing his superb recent form in front of his home crowd at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Germany, this weekend.

The seven-time world champion (37) has cut Spaniard Fernando Alonso’s championship lead from 25 to 17 points after winning the last two races in dominant fashion.

And the Ferrari driver, who has won his home race three times, knows that with seven races still to go, Alonso has not won anything yet.

Schumacher said: “Things can change at the drop of a hat in Formula One. A comfortable lead can melt away and disappear just like that. We’re all focused on our goal—put on the pressure, gain ground, win again.

“If we manage to do that, the tables can turn quickly.
Maybe we’ll manage to turn the rest of the season into an interesting fight for the title once again.”

Schumacher, an 88-time race winner, was all but written off from title contention over the winter after a disastrous 2005 that netted only a single win.

But following four victories in the first 11 races, he can see a more positive attitude within Ferrari than last year—one reminiscent of their five straight drivers’ world titles from 2000 to 2004.

He added: “I don’t suppose I need to stress the fact that we’re very keen [on winning the title]. I think anyone can tell. I can feel it within the team. Our fighting spirit is going strong, we want to secure this title.”

Though he was comprehensively beaten by the Schumacher in the United States and France, Renault driver Alonso (24), the reigning world champion, is not fazed by his rival’s form.

Despite seeing the Ferrari driver looming larger than ever in his rear-view mirrors, Alonso has set his sights on gaining the upper hand on his rival.

And the Spaniard thinks that repeating his Hockenheim win of last year in front of 150 000 screaming Schumacher fans will give him a psychological advantage for the rest of the season.

“It’s important to beat Michael at every race—not just Hockenheim,” said Alonso, who has already won six times this season. “We know that at this stage of the season we have to be finishing in front of the Ferraris.

“But I think that a win in Germany could be worth more than ten points because of the psychological aspect. I try to win all the races—but it would mean a lot to take the victory here.”

Alonso’s season appears to have gone the same way as last year. He built up a huge points lead after a strong start, and was able to cruise and collect podiums and the title when Finn Kimi Raikkonen began to close in for McLaren.

And he is confident of repeating that feat, knowing he can secure a second crown just by finishing second in all the remaining races.

He added: “I am feeling very optimistic. We had a strong first half of the season, and they key thing now is to keep going and finalise the job. The Renault team is ready, and I am ready. I think we can finish 2006 the same way we started it.”

At the other end of the grid, this weekend’s 12th race of the season marks the debut of Super Aguri’s all-new car, the SA06.

The Japanese-owned team have been running a 2002 Arrows chassis, adapted to suit the current regulations, but will aim to gain on their rivals this weekend after giving the car its debut run at Silverstone shortly after the French Grand Prix.

They also have a new driver as 23-year-old Sakon Yamamoto, from Japan, replaces Frenchman Franck Montagny alongside Takuma Sato.

Yamamoto was previously the team’s test and reserve driver and has driven in Friday practice at the last three grands prix. Montagny will now take the test role.

One thing that will not be seen at Hockenheim though, is the radical nose-wings that BMW Sauber ran at the French Grand Prix.

After worries that the tall wings could impair drivers’ vision, and claims that other teams could copy them if they proved effective, Formula One’s governing body, the Federation Internationale l’Automobile, banned them.

This means their former world champion Jacques Villeneuve, of Canada, and German Nick Heidfeld will have to race in the team’s home race without them.—AFP

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